"How much longer?!" my 7-year-old whines, even though we've only just arrived.
I check the car clock. 5:17 p.m. "Any minute now," I say, watching a smattering of kids emerge from the middle school gym doors.
We are right on time, actually ahead of schedule since I usually receive my 12-year-old's "pick me up" call at around 5:20 p.m. Tonight is one of those nights where the clock is ticking harder and faster than Marisa Tomei's from My Cousin Vinny, although unless you're over 40 you probably won't know anything about that.
Basically, I need to pick up my 9-year-old from Hebrew school by 6:00 p.m., drop the 12-year-old off, and then shoot over to the 9-year-old's basketball game from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Then the 12-year-old gets picked up at 8:10 p.m. and goes straight to his basketball game from 8:30 to 930 p.m., but by then my husband has taken over and I'm home with the younger ones running in different circles.
"This is taking forever!" My little one grumbles. I don't begrudge him. As the youngest, he's a semi-hostile member of Team Mommy, we who schlep and spectate.
Where is he? Usually he's out by now. I had hoped to let them eat at Smashburger, but now it'll probably be a car picnic in the Temple parking lot. Annoying. I send him a quick text. "Outside waiting."
The girls basketball and boys wrestling teams also let out and there is a steady stream of sweaty young teens. I squint to see if there's anyone I know, but it is dusk and all I can make out is that they are all dressed inappropriately for winter.
An uncomfortable thought creeps into my head. Typically, between finishing classes at 3:10 p.m. and heading to the gym, he sends me a quick text "Going to volleyball," but today he didn't check in.
"I'm soooo hungry!" My 7-year-old complains over and over but it folds into my rising anxiety.
A few familiar looking boys come out. I open my window to ask if they've seen my son, but they are engaged with each other and I am embarrassed to interrupt and embarrass my son by being the crazy mom which I am totally being.
He's barely even late, I scold myself. What is wrong with my brain?!
It is growing dark. The parking lot slows to an unsettling quiet. Kids still fill the gym anteroom waiting for their rides but the heavy doors swing open on slower intervals, like when you put the window washers on low.
Why didn't he text earlier? Why hasn't he texted now? I call but it goes to his voicemail, which isn't even set up. I call again. And again.
My neck strains to see inside the school. My hand grips the door handle ready to jump out. Where? Where?
There. Right there. Smile sweet as melted sugar and posture relaxed as a lazy bear, he saunters over. Of course. I breathe. Of course.
"Finally!" My youngest huffs, "I'm soo hungry!"
"Sorry, mama," he says, throwing himself and his over-sized backpack into the car. "Practice ran a little late and then I forgot my book."
I tousle his hair and warmly chastise him about not checking in as I simultaneously throw the car in gear and set off to Smashburger, the pickups, drop offs and all the rest, more keenly aware than ever that every minute counts.
A version of this essay first appeared on IceScreamMama.com